Why Rick Perry will win the ‘blogger primary’ (and why it matters)

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Politico is speculating that Texas Governor Rick Perry will make his intentions to run for president known this Saturday at the RedState Gathering in South Carolina. This, of course, would be huge news — and might even threaten to partially overshadow the results of the Ames, Iowa straw poll taking place that day.

It’s still not clear whether Perry might make a formal announcement on Saturday, or merely use the speech as an opportunity “to make clear that he’s running for president.” Either way, while some observers may be surprised Perry would choose this venue for such an important announcement, I’m not one of them.

The truth is that Perry — probably more than any of his peers — has long grasped the significance of the conservative blogosphere.

In January of 2010, for example, Perry hosted a “blogger summit” in Austin (which I attended). This was an opportunity for national bloggers like Andrew Breitbart and Roger L. Simon to address local Texas conservative bloggers. But it was also a chance for Perry to get to know some national and state-based bloggers over dinner (and a trip to the gun range).

The 2010 RedState Gathering (which I also attended) took place in Austin later that September. Perry spoke at the event — hosted a reception — and organized a clay pigeon shooting outing for bloggers.

Like traditional reporters, bloggers love access, and while Perry declined to meet with newspaper editorial boards during his primary race against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, he went out of his way to make himself available to conservative bloggers — both big and small. He held conference calls and made himself available for interviews and podcasts. (And unlike some politicians who might turn people off upon meeting them — meeting Rick Perry is tantamount to liking Rick Perry.)

This sort of blogger outreach matters — especially in primaries. In 2008, John McCain’s outreach earned him much more favorable coverage than he might otherwise have garnered from conservative bloggers. Tim Pawlenty tried to replicate this, but Perry (whose positions are more in line with conservatives than McCain’s were) seems well-positioned to replicate McCain’s success.

If he indeed announces his intentions this weekend in South Carolina (I will — once again — be on hand), it would be entirely fitting and proper. Either way, you should expect a large percentage of conservative bloggers for sites like RedState.com, and others, to jump on the Perry bandwagon. And in a GOP primary, conservative bloggers — especially prominent and respected voices like Erick Erickson — can have a dramatic influence…

Matt K. Lewis